Los Angeles, Calif. – The Los Angeles Sparks opened training camp Sunday with a slate full of top-notch newcomers.
The Sparks’ three draft picks – guards Whitney Knight and Brianna Butler and forward Talia Walton – lead a large group who will be among 21 competing for a spot on the 12-woman roster. Only two veterans were on hand in All-Star Candace Parker and Essence Carson. Returning starters Jantel Lavender, Nneka Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard are still wrapping up play with their teams overseas.
Last season was tumultuous for Los Angeles, which won 2 of their first 14 games but went on to the WNBA playoffs. Parker, who sat out the first half of the year, was instrumental in their comeback. Attending camp Sunday was something she’s never been able to do before because of her own overseas commitments.
“I’ve never practiced on the first day of camp – it’s never happened,” Parker said. “So hopefully it’s a good sign.”
Second-year coach Brian Agler called the day a success.
“A lot of our key players aren’t here, as they’re still playing in Europe, but it’s good to get started,” he said. “This gives us a chance to evaluate our younger players.”
Carson, whom the Sparks signed as a free agent after playing all seven of her WNBA years for the New York Liberty, was a vocal leader during the session, as was Parker. Both players have known each other since high school. This is the Rutgers graduate’s first time away from the East coast, and she relishes the experience.
“It was time for a change. I had some good years in New York, but it was time to make a change for myself and for my career,” Carson said. “I’m excited to be here. It’s really different from New York; things are a lot slower.”
Parker is glad to have her aboard.
“Essence Carson is really going to help us this year,” she said. “A lot of the stuff she does doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, but it’s important.”
Chelsea Gray, whom Los Angeles acquired from Connecticut in a draft day trade, is also still overseas, as is veteran center Ann Wauters, signed over the winter. Returning reserves Ana Dabovic and Jennifer Hamson were also absent.
Agler said the coaching staff makes cuts as necessary throughout camp.
“Whenever we feel like an individual doesn’t have a chance then we make a decision,” he said. “That could be in a few days or a week from now.”
With so much talent to choose from, it might not be hard to fulfill Agler’s goal of being more aggressive.
“I think we’ll be more physical this year,” he said. “We want to improve our perimeter shooting. If you look at our draft picks you see all three are good three-point shooters, so we’ll look at that. Our point guards (in camp), Jasmine Lister and KK Houser, are doing great. We’re not looking for any one thing, but a lot of things.”
Parker, who turned 30 last week, says her mind set has changed entering her eighth year as a professional.
“I am what I am. I feel like I was vocal in my rookie year. I feel like I was always a big part of the team. Mentally, I’m a vet now,” she said.
For the first time last winter, Parker didn’t play in Russia, choosing instead to play for a short time in China. She said she isn’t necessarily done playing overseas, but she has to be more selective now that her daughter is about to turn seven.
“I’ll let it play out,” Parker said. “The whole eight or nine-month thing – it would have to be at a great place with a great school, because my kid’s going to be with me.”
Parker said her preseason preparation went well.
“It was ups and downs, but I’m here today and honestly, I feel great,” she said.
She also said her training regimen has changed to a more savvy routine.
It’s pretty much the same but it’s not as much quantity, it’s quality,” Parker said. “I’m not going to come out and work out for two hours before practice. I did that my rookie year, second year, third year. But now I’ll do my routine: less reps, more quality.”
Agler knows he has hard cuts to make.
“Every year it gets tougher because it’s not like college where after four years players are gone,” he said. “The talent level (in college) is rising at a younger age.”
Parker looks forward to having extra time with the team.
“We’re going to have time to get it right, and we’ll use it,” she said.